If one moment pictures the madness of New Labour’s 1997 General Election landslide, it is a snapshot of would-be-Conservative leader Michael Portillo defeated by the baby faced Twigg. Expected to lead his party after the night’s turmoil, the Tory was made to smile through gritted teeth as he lost his own seat by 1,400 votes despite having a 1992 majority of 31.8%. History remembers it as ‘the Portillo moment’ - an infamous warning of the power of politics.
Confined now to Andrew Neil’s ‘This Week’ sofa, there is no chance of Portillo enduring a similar feat. However, could a chaotic 2015 turn other frontbench faces red?
Here is a look at five potential high profile casualties in May.
1. Nick Clegg
The Deputy Prime Minister has a relatively safe seat in Westminster (a majority of 29.9%), so why is he in trouble? Students form a big part of the demographic of his Sheffield Hallam constituency. Now paying £9,000 a year for tuition, their MP promised them he would eradicate such fees just five years ago. It seems revenge is on the cards. Two separate polls have shown the very real risk that the seat will be claimed by Labour’s Oliver Coppard, with one putting the Lib Dem leader 10 points behind. How Clegg’s fortune has changed…
2. Ed Balls
With the national swing almost certain to be in Labour’s favour, it is more difficult to see their Shadow Chancellor being ejected from Parliament by the electorate. However, boundary changes in his seat of Morley and Outwood mean that he is sitting on a very slim majority. Just 1,101 votes (2.3%) separate Labour from the Conservatives in the West Yorkshire constituency. He is unpopular with the public and factions within his own party, so a spot of tactical voting from his constituents could see the former Labour leadership candidate out of a job.
3. Esther McVey
Seen as a face of the ‘nasty’ side of the coalition government, the former GMTV presenter has been deputy to the loathed Iain Duncan Smith in the Department for Work and Pensions since 2012. She was targeted by many for her department’s decision to appoint private firm Atos to assess disability benefit claimants. Her seat of Wirral West has a more comfortable majority of 6.2%, but was held by Labour from 1997-2005. The electorate certainly have a motive to eject McVey, but whether they do so remains to be seen.
4. Douglas Alexander
Prior to last year’s referendum in Scotland, the Shadow Foreign Secretary would not have dreamed of losing his seat, but with the surge in support the SNP have received since then, Alexander is now in danger of having his 41.5% majority overturned. Polling by Lord Ashcroft in January revealed 48% support for the SNP, compared to a reduced 40% for Alexander. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Labour’s election strategist lost his own seat in one of the biggest swings of all time?
5. Danny Alexander
The Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury has known of the impending danger for a long time. Initially targeted by Labour then the SNP after the Coalition formed in 2010, polls consistently show Alexander on course to be unseated in his Inverness constituency. Latest polling data has him 29% behind Nicola Sturgeon’s party. Should he be voted out of the Commons by the public, it may not be as astounding a surprise as the previous four, but a mighty fall from grace nonetheless.
And the others...
Also in danger is former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas. Lucas has a majority of just 1,252 (2.4%) and will be fighting a national swing towards Labour, who are hot on her heels. Another Conservative casualty could be Anna Soubry, the Defence Minister who caught the public eye through a series of strong performances on Question Time. Her seat of Broxtowe is the 19th most marginal in the UK.
Two Labour frontbenchers who will be sweating on the night of May 7 are Vernon Coaker, the shadow Defence Secretary, and Gloria De Piero, Shadow Equalities Minister, who have majorities of just 3.9% and 0.4% respectively. Jo Swinson could become a better known victim of a Lib Dem massacre. The former Baby of the House has held various senior posts in the Commons over the past decade, but could see her career come to an end trying to defend a 4.6% majority in her East Dunbartonshire constituency.